Sunlight drifted through the slits in the closed blinds over the picture window of Eric Herrington’s three-and-a-half storey house. Normally the window showed a mile-long stretch of beach that ended in the lake that stretched out for miles; but when one was on a bender, one didn’t care about those things so much as keeping the sun out.
The filtered rays danced over dozens of empty whiskey bottles and glasses that gathered with pizza boxes and Chinese food containers. Eric hadn’t left the house in days, and it showed.
The persistent ring of the telephone tugged Eric out of a passed-out drunken sleep. He decided to let it go to voicemail. It wasn’t worth the energy to fully pull himself from unconsciousness. He didn’t even move from his prone position on the couch, face half buried in the satin pillow.
The machine clicked and beeped, indicating the caller should leave a message. “Eric.” Charity. More than a month since they’d broken up, and her voice still made his heart beat faster. “Eric, I heard what happened to your brother. I just…. I wanted to say I’m sorry. For everything.”
Everything? The lies, the secrets, breaking his heart? He could still hear her words. You’re right…you need someone who can be honest with you. You deserve that much. And right now, that’s not me.
He wasn’t angry. He was too tired to be angry. Too tired from trying to figure it all out. She’d been different after her impromptu trip to Europe with her best friend Meryl last summer. A trip, which he later found out, she never actually took. She’d described an adorable cafe in Brussles, but Eric knew a friend of a friend who owned the place. He’d never seen her. That wouldn’t have been a big deal except that an art gallery she’d allegedly gone to had been closed for two years. And a small town she and Meryl had spent the night in was closed to tourism.
Not that she’d been anywhere in Alliance City. It was like she’d disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Since that summer, she’d been distant. The last few weeks of their relationship had been a painful game of telephone tag, and when they did finally manage some quality time, she was forever leaving their dates for a laundry list of poor excuses. When he finally cornered her and asked for a straight answer, that’s when she ended it.
Of course, it never rains, but it pours. He’d barely managed to pick himself off his drunk ass, and he received a call from Italy asking him to identify the body of his brother. The bile still rose in his throat when he thought of it. Drew’s body had been torn in two. An accident at his brother’s archeology site, Eric was told. A stone structure had collapsed on top of him, severing his torso. Looked more like something ripped it. He buried that thought. That was ridiculous. What would have the force to do that? He wasn’t a child to believe in monsters. Besides, he was no coroner.
More than ever, he wanted Charity there. She’d know what to say. Which would probably mean saying nothing. She’d just hold him and for a moment the world and its pain wouldn’t exist while they embraced.
But that was nothing more than a dream. They were over. He’d eventually pick himself up and go back to his white collar world. She’d hide in her books and relative obscurity, a handful of middleclass friends her only connection to the outside world. They’d traveled in different social circles before, and they would again. Her life would continue to be a mystery to him; the only consolation was that his would be just as hidden from her behind a wall of privilege.
His eyes opened. There was no way she could have heard about Drew’s death. His mother had gone to great lengths to keep it out of the media, and she certainly wouldn’t have told Charity. Elmira Herrington had entirely disapproved of Eric’s choice of partner.
How the hell did she know?
* * * *
Charity London fussed with the cuff of her Delta-issued flak jacket as her eyes darted back and forth from one screen to another. Drake Hachirobei watched her restlessness with typical quiet repose. They were in what appeared to be a derelict old van cinderblocked on the side of the road. On the outside, it was falling apart and pieces seemed to be missing as if the vehicle had been ravaged for parts. Inside, it was a technological marvel with several screens hooked up to hidden cameras showing different angles of the shady alleyway.
“I shouldn’t have called him.” For the umpteenth time that night, Charity was second-guessing herself. Drake said nothing. He’d given the obligatory platitudes already, including flat-out telling her that she needed to get over it. She hadn’t punched him in the face, but that was because he was right.
“I know what he’s feeling right now. His world’s upside down, and he doesn’t even know the real reason why. The last thing he wants is to hear from the girl who dumped him. I mean, who the hell falls for this kind of thing anyway?”
The abrupt change of subject mid-rant would have caught anyone else off guard, but Drake and Charity had been working together for so long that it would have taken a lot more than that to shake him.
“Apparently…” Drake flicked at the screen on his tablet. “Veto_Boi738.”
“Did we ever confirm that he is, indeed, a boy?”
“That’s about the only thing. The messages between him and the Solstice catfish were so garbled we don’t even know the kid’s powers.”
“Well, we do know Solstice wants to kill him, and that’s the important thing. I mean, growing up a freak is bad enough, but a bunch of people wanting to kill you because your DNA is a bit scrambled? I think Eric would understand, though. You know, if I told him.” She was on that again.
Drake just gave her a quirked eyebrow look.
“I know, I know. It would be treason and all that yadda yadda. Sam should have approved the relationship. That’s what pisses me off the most, that my love life is somehow my boss’s business.”
Drake could have told her that of course it was Samantha Clive’s business. The Delta Division’s very existence was classified, and in order to maintain that secrecy, Director Clive needed to be very careful about who they read in on protocol. But honestly, he didn’t really believe that, and most of the time he was of the opinion that protocol could go fuck itself.
“Oh, look, a drug deal.” Charity thrust her chin forward to point out two kids not-so-discretely exchanging money and a small package.
“Lucky for them, that’s not our department.”
“Nope, but that is.” She pointed at two men and a woman standing together outside the doorway of a seedy cafe. Their stances revealed them clearly to be combat trained, for someone who knew how to look. “I guess if a kid’s stupid enough to fall for the ‘we have candy, get in the van’ trick, there’s no need to be subtle.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, we’re the ones with the creepy van.”
“You know what I mean.”
A teenage boy in a hooded sweatshirt rounded the corner and took a quick look around, a little lost. Drake wiggled his eyebrows at Charity. “Show time.”
The three combatants, unaware of Charity and Drake’s presence, surrounded the boy and brandished weapons that looked like guns. “Nope,” Drake muttered. The guns crumbled in their hands and they looked up in surprise. Their shock wasn’t nearly as profound as the boy’s. He stood, stunned, too afraid to run or even move.
One of the men and the women took a combat stance flanking Drake. The other man and Charity squared off.
* * * *
The boy’s voice was familiar. Charity glanced over her shoulder and peered under the hood. Her jaw dropped. “Marcus?” The reality thudded into Charity. Her brother, her kid brother was the one they were supposed to be protecting.
Which meant he’d developed powers.
Why hadn’t she seen it? What the hell was wrong with her? She been so damn preoccupied with her boyfriend drama, she’d missed a very real threat to her brother. She was supposed to be taking care of him.
Her focus shifted, her opponent took his chance. He struck out with a swift jab. Charity glanced back at the last minute to deflect the blow, but her hesitation cost her the chance to react to the assailant’s follow-through. A ceramic blade. Drake’s gonna be pissed that he didn’t see it coming, though that’s a smart move on Solstice’s part. Why her brain chose to focus on that detail in the half-second before it ran threw her, she had no idea. Hot and cold blended together as the knife sank into her stomach.
Her heartbeat became the only sound she was aware of on a conscious level. Marcus was screaming, something wordless. Poor kid. He was probably so confused. Drake had a look on his face that was as close to panic as he was capable of making. Her knees hit the ground.
The air tingled with electricity, which made no sense because she wasn’t discharging her power, at least not on purpose. And she’d gone well past the point where she was accidentally filling the environment with energy.
Marcus hadn’t. He was losing control. She wanted to tell him to calm down, that it was going to be okay, but she couldn’t say anything. Breathing hurt. The knife must have hit a lung.
“Get down!” Drake yelled, which made no sense because she was already on the ground. She was suddenly aware of the asphalt burrowing into her cheekbones. Put pressure on the wound she reminded herself. Now if only she could move to do so.
Everything went dark, and for a second she thought she’d passed out, but then she realized that the lights had gone out everywhere. Then Marcus was kneeling beside her. As she rolled over, she saw Drake out cold on the ground. “Pocket. Phone,” she managed. “Call Jay.” At least she hoped she said that. If he was going to go with the reasonable thing to do and call 911 they were all going to be in a bit of trouble.
The phone slipped from her pocket, so at least he got that part. “Jay? Who, what? Why?” She wished he’d shut up with his questions and do it already.
“Trust…me.” Her breath caught, and she coughed. She could taste the blood coating her mouth. Now the world really did go black.
* * * *
Marcus’ hands shook. He opened the phone. He was surprised it still worked. Every piece of electronic equipment for miles was knocked out. Why did this phone still work?
That didn’t matter. He paged through the contacts and found Jayson. That must be it. He dialed. The phone rang twice, and a male voice answered on the other end. “Jayson? Charity. She’s… She’s in trouble.”
And then there was someone there in the alley. “Damn good thing you had the sense to call me first,” Jayson said. Marcus gaped at him. “I teleport. You’ve got powers of some kind, so others with them shouldn’t surprise you.” He knelt calmly beside Charity.
A loud groan emanated from Drake. “Anyone get the number of that bus?” Marcus turned his stunned look at him, then at the others who’d attacked him. The three enemies were dead. More than that, they were barely charred remains. Marcus tasted bile in his mouth. I killed them.
He looked back at Drake. “How are you…Why aren’t you…”
“Dead? I affect magnetic fields. You caught me off guard, though. You get one shot at me, kid, and that was it. Don’t think it’ll happen again.”
Marcus didn’t know how to respond to that. No Sir? Bring it on, Sir? He had to have the ‘Sir’ in there, that’s for sure.
“Teleporting to the infirmary,” Jay said. He looked at Marcus. “Marcus, right? This is going to be a bit disorienting.”
He wasn’t kidding. The dark alleyway swirled into a mess of shadows in front of his eyes and resolved itself into blinding light. It took a second for his eyes to adjust, and longer for his stomach. Somehow he found a wastepaper basket before he lost his dinner.
There were nurses and doctors waiting, and Charity was loaded onto a gurney. She grabbed Jay’s hand. “You gotta tell him…if I don’t…”
“Don’t be silly, Charity, it’s not fatal, you’ll be fine.”
“You just get better and tell him yourself.” Jay waved his hand and the professionals wheeled her away.
Jay’s brow was furrowed with worry, but it cleared into a forced smile when he looked at Marcus. “So, uh…some welcome, hey, kid?” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Jayson.”
“Yeah, got that.” Marcus shook his hand anyway. Tell who what? What was Charity talking about?
Jayson grabbed some paper towel and handed them to Marcus, who accepted them and wiped the upchucked leftovers from his mouth.
Questions and confusion swirled together in Marcus’ mind. He tried desperately to pull them into something that resembled order, but all that came out was an inarticulate expression of exasperation. “What the f—“
“Careful kid, don’t let your sister hear that kind of language, she’ll kill you herself.”
Marcus shrugged. He wasn’t kidding.
“So, let’s start from the beginning.” He indicated a set of chairs and waited for Marcus to take a seat. It wasn’t until he sat that Marcus realized how much he was shaking. He tried to clench and unclench his fists to release the tension in his body. It didn’t work very well. “How long have you known you could do things no one else could?” Jayson asked.
“A few months, I guess. At first it was things like my cell phone dying one minute, then at full power the next. You know, normal weird stuff.”
“Hm. Yeah. And then?”
“Then I found out I could do it on purpose. Turn my cell on and off just by thinking about it. Other things too. The TV. The microwave. It was cool at first, but then I realized it made me some kind of freak.”
“And so you researched it online.”
Marcus nodded. “I-I thought I’d found others. You know, people with real powers.”
“So you came to the brilliant conclusion that you needed to meet them in a dark alley in a bad neighborhood.” Drake rolled off the gurney he’d been resting on. He stretched out his muscles before the shock stiffened them completely. He gave Marcus a disapproving look.
Marcus blushed. “It wasn’t like that, okay? One of the…one of the girls I was talking to said she was in trouble. She wanted to meet. I thought…” He trailed off. No matter how he put it, it did sound colossally stupid. “They were going to kill me, weren’t they?”
Dude doesn’t believe in sugarcoating things, does he? Marcus mused.
Jay cast Drake a disapproving look. “Hey, cut the kid some slack, eh?
“Kid tried to fry me. I ain’t cutting nobody nothin’.”
Jay rolled his eyes. “Don’t mind him. He’s grumpy with everyone. It’s when he starts giving you an evil grin that you gotta be worried.”
Drake gave him an evil grin.
“See, like that.”
It did make Marcus a little uncomfortable to see the man looking at him much like a predator would look at his prey. But he had other concerns. “So…who were those guys anyway?”
“Agents of Solstice,” Jay answered. “They’re a purist group that believe in the cleansing of the human race. To them, we’re an abomination.”
“Don’t feel too bad,” Drake said. “This is a common tactic of theirs.”
Jay nodded. “It’s been…disturbingly effective. We’ve been fairly aggressive to try to stop it, but…”
“But people can be stupid on the internet.”
Don’t remind me. Marcus was becoming increasingly aware that his sister was suffering a life-threatening injury, and it was all his fault. “So…you’re just a bunch of people with super powers trying to keep each other safe?”
Jay laughed. “Oh, we’re a lot more organized than that. We’re part of something called the Delta Division. It used to be a military organization before the last leadership made it a bit more of an informal agency. It’s a total secret though. Seriously, we’ve got some paperwork to do.”
Drake groaned again and stood. “Anyway. Welcome to the madhouse. Jayson’ll give you the grand tour. I’m going to go find a bed and sleep off the effects of being used as a lightning rod.” He looked at Jay and his face turned serious. “You’ll…”
Jay nodded. “I’ll let you know if anything changes with her.”
Marcus followed Drake’s retreating back with his gaze. This was a grave situation, but that didn’t for a second disrupt the…poise of these people. They had an air of elite comrades, people who’d worked together for years under circumstances that would break a person. And one of them is my sister. He could scarcely believe it. I feel like I’m dreaming.
“So…my sister’s a super hero.”
Jay chuckled. “Damn straight. One of the best.”
“I kinda feel like half my childhood started to suddenly make sense. The other half is garbled nonsense. Like I mysteriously switched places with some unlucky jackass in a super powered spy movie.”
Jay threw back his head and laughed. “That is possibly the most accurate description of learning about all of this that I have ever heard. That’s awesome.”
Marcus crossed his arms and leaned against the back of the chair, a sullen gaze directed somewhere in the distance. “What can I say, humor is a defense mechanism.” He felt unbelievably tired all of the sudden. The adrenalin was wearing off, and all he wanted to do was curl into a ball, buried under a mountain of mindless television and Internet cat videos. Anything to drown out the day. He shut his eyes, fatigue and a bitter taste of something he couldn’t describe forcing him into an almost disassociated state. I killed three people tonight.
A heavy pressure on his shoulder brought him back to reality–or what passed for reality in this particular moment. “It’s a lot to process,” Jayson said. “Take your time. If you need to talk, I’m here. Your sister will be happy to answer any questions as well, once she’s up and running. We’ve got people here trained to handle your transition. Marcus, look at me.”
And for some reason, Marcus let his hazel eyes meet Jayson’s green ones.
“Marcus…you’re not alone.”